Why User Testing Is Critical for Your New Website

Launching a new website can be really exciting. Whether you’re doing a long-needed redesign or starting something completely new, you’re likely eager to put your company or organization’s best foot forward. You also probably have lots of ideas about the content you’ll need and the user experience that will work best with your audience.

But how do you know what’s really going to resonate well with your users? How do you know the site structure or content or functionality that’s going to best help you achieve your goals?

There’s a saying we like to use a lot at Willow: “You can’t read the label from the inside of the jar.” This is true whether you’re working on your brand identity or building a new website. Sometimes our best assumptions about our audience are completely wrong—and the only way we know that is to go straight to the source. That’s where usability testing comes in.

Usability Testing Basics

Websites are big projects that take a lot of resources, from design to copy to development. That’s why user testing should begin early in the project and continue throughout. The goal is to gather as much feedback as possible as early as possible to identify any design or navigation issues before you get to the expensive part of the process: the final build. It’s too late and too expensive to leave user testing for after you’ve built your website.

What to Test

What you decide to test will depend on your website and its circumstances. Here are some common strategies:

  • Test pieces of your new website as its being created to confirm the choices you’re making. This can be an important validation along the way.
  • If you’re redesigning an existing website, test the old site to identify what features should be carried over to the new website, and what should be left behind or improved. This is also a great opportunity to ask the user what they wish the website could do.
  • If you’re moving into a space where there is already an existing, competing website, you could conduct testing on the competitor’s website to see if there is anything you can learn from what they’re doing.

When to Test

Typically, the more user testing, the better. However, if you don’t have the budget to perform usability testing through the website process, choose to test early to avoid costly changes later down the road. We like to test…

Before Initial Designs. This could be done using paper prototypes or higher fidelity wireframes. Test a few key tasks or elements to ensure that you are focusing and prioritizing your efforts correctly.

During the Design Phase. Testing with flat designs can help with visual feedback, including how imagery and fonts influence feelings and how the eye is drawn to certain areas of the screen by color.

During the Development Phase. The development site can be tested to see if there is anything that needs to be adjusted from a functionality standpoint before making the site public.

After Launch. Once the site has been public for a while, it’s good to check in with your users to see if the site is performing the way they would like and expect it to. You may find “Phase 2” items that need to be addressed to make for a better website.

How to Test

Finally, you’ll want to figure out what kind of usability testing will work best for your project. The 3 most common types of user testing are:

Hallway/Guerilla: This is where you set up your study somewhere with a lot of foot traffic. It allows you to ask randomly-selected people (who have most likely never even heard of your company or organization) to evaluate the website’s user experience.

Remote/Unmoderated: Remote/unmoderated usability testing is done with the use of third-party software. It has two main advantages:

  1. The software will recruit target participants for your study and administer the tests, so you can spend more time researching and less time managing the process.
  2. It allows your participants to interact with your interface by themselves and in their natural environment.

Software like Userlytics or Crazy Egg will record video and audio of each user completing tasks, which you can then review and share with other members of your team.

Moderated: Moderated usability testing is conducted with someone from your team leading the user testing, either in groups or with individual users. It also has two main advantages:

  1. You can interact with participants in person or through a video call, which allows you to ask for elaboration on their comments if needed.
  2. You’ll also be able to help your users understand the task and keep them on track if your instructions don’t initially register with them.

Usability testing provides an invaluable source of data that helps you keep your project on track—and in the process, you may learn other useful information about your audience and how they view your brand.

Ready to get started on user testing of your own? Reach out and we’ll help you figure out the best way to move forward. And read Part 2 of our Usability Testing series: How to Conduct a Moderated Usability Test.

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Written by Cara Bow

“No matter who you are, I'll find something I like about you. We're all in this together, friends.”